While we often think of the brain as one large mass, it is really a collection of much smaller components: neurons! Neurons are the individual cellular units that make up the nervous system (Queensland Brain Institute, 2016). You can think of a neuron as an electrical wire! Today we are going to break down the basics of neuroscience!
Neurons are designed to send signals which are transmitted from one neuron to another. Most signals between neurons traverse a tiny gap called the synapse. Neurons that send signals across a synapse are called presynaptic neurons, while neurons that receive signals from across a synapse are called postsynaptic neurons. Essentially an electric signal travels through to the end of a neuron. Once there it causes the release of chemicals from the presynaptic neuron. These chemicals act as a key and bind to complementary shaped receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. Depending on the chemical, this binding action will cause a specific response in the postsynaptic neuron (such as making it transmit a signal to the next neuron) (“The principles of nerve cell communication,” 1997; Guillery, 2004).
Okay, so I know that was a lot of information, and you must be thinking “Why is this important?” Well, our understanding of all conscious experiences, including mental health, relies on these principles of neuroscience (National Institute of Health, 2021). Now that you have the basics down, we can explain how drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, and adderall lead to changes in brain functions! In some of our future articles we will begin tackling the mechanism by which these medications can offer some relief to individuals struggling with psychiatric illness!